While the majority of new homes built in Maine use a warm-air furnace for central heat, there are many older homes here that rely on a boiler for heat. These are primarily oil-fueled systems because by far, heating oil is used by the majority of homeowners in the Pine Tree State. So, how does a boiler heat your home?
Boilers use hot water or steam to heat your home. Another name for a boiler is a hydronic heating system, which is defined as a system that transfers heat via a circulating fluid, such as water, in a closed system of pipes.
Steam boilers can still be found in older homes, usually ones built before the 1950s. If you have this type of system, your boiler stays true to its name because it actually has to boil water to make steam before your heat can be distributed.
In comparison, newer boilers do not need to boil the water to make steam. Instead, they use hot water to distribute heat through a home’s piping. The heat is distributed through your home by either radiators or baseboards.
Because a boiler is a closed-loop system, water does not need to be constantly brought in or replaced, making it more efficient.
Many homeowners prefer hot water heating to warm air systems like furnaces and heat pumps. The heat that boilers create does not dry out the air. Plus, the heat generated by your hydronic heating system can also be used to heat water in your home, creating an efficient two-in-one home and water heating solution. Heated water is stored in a separate tank that’s connected to the boiler for later use.
Like any piece of equipment, your boiler will eventually have to be replaced one day. But is that day near, or still far off? If you need a repair, should you still keep putting money into your aging boiler? Or would you be better off investing your money into a new, high-efficiency boiler?
First, let’s look at age. While the average boiler will last about 20-25 years—as long as proper maintenance has been followed–there are many home boilers in Maine that are even older than that. And while they may still be keeping homes warm enough, their efficiency rate is much lower than a new hot water boiler, which means you are using more fuel to generate heat. Some people have upgraded to a super-efficient condensing boiler, which converts water vapor condensation into heat and recovers some of the lost heat from waste gases.
Boiler technology has improved dramatically over the years and new hydronic heating systems are much more efficient than the systems installed decades ago. When we say efficient, we mean that the boiler puts out more heat with less fuel, which translates to big savings on your annual home heating costs.
Read more about a new boiler installation.
With another heating season upon us, it’s a good idea to review the basics of how a boiler (also known as a hydronic system) keeps a home warm. That way, if you run into heating issues over the next few months, you’ll be better prepared to discuss the situation with your heating service contractor.
There are two main types of boilers found in Maine homes: a steam boiler, commonly found in older homes, and the modern, and more energy-efficient, hot water boiler. Steam boilers require special safety precautions because of the temperature of the steam (the water must be heated to 212°F). As a result, it is vitally important to follow a regular maintenance schedule.
Your boiler extracts heat from heating oil, propane, natural gas or wood pellets as it burns; this heats the water (or creates steam) that will run through the zones that are calling for heat. The heat is delivered into your living space through either radiators or baseboards.
The problem is that some heat (as much as 30% in some older boiler models) will be lost as exhaust, which means you are paying a lot of money for heat that will never reach your living space. See how much you can benefit with a new boiler installation.
A more efficient version of the hot water boiler is the condensing boiler, which is designed to keep heat loss to a minimum. By recycling heat from the exhaust process – and by operating at lower temperatures overall – your condensing boiler can improve operating efficiency by 10-15% compared to a non-condensing boiler.
However, a condensing boiler is not practical for all homes. Plus, condensing boilers cost more to manufacture. Installing a condensing boiler correctly requires highly trained technicians who know how to capitalize on the efficiency benefits of these sophisticated heating systems.
Regular maintenance is a vital money-saving investment for home heating systems– not just because it can keep your equipment running safely and at peak efficiency, but also because four out of five heating system breakdowns are preventable if you follow the manufacturer’s maintenance recommendations.
A professional tune-up and safety check allows your heating service contractor to fix minor issues before they become big problems (worn parts, etc.). Regular tune-ups can also help you conserve heating fuel over the winter.
Contact your local Maine equipment service contractor to make sure your boiler is set to go before winter returns. Keep in mind that boiler maintenance is just one of the ways you can conserve energy and save money over the winter.
Propane is already environmentally beneficial since it burns cleanly with negligible greenhouse gas emissions. The advent of renewable propane gas, however, takes the propane industry’s effort to become more sustainable a big step further.
While it is not in common use yet, renewable propane gas has positioned itself to be a major part of the clean fuel conversation in the years ahead. The 200,000 tons of American renewable propane currently made is only 0.1 percent of total propane production. There’s tremendous potential for growth as more resources are dedicated to renewable propane production.
Just as conventional propane is a coproduct of crude oil and natural gas extraction, most renewable propane can be considered a coproduct of biofuel creation. Many of the same feedstocks that go into creating biofuel — animal oils, vegetable oils, biomass — are used to create renewable propane.
This method of producing propane is as safe, cost-effective, and dependable as that for propane generated from natural gas. And when compared to electricity, renewable propane has a considerably smaller carbon footprint. It can also reduce our reliance on aging, poorly maintained, fragile electric utility infrastructures.
Conventional propane and renewable propane are molecularly identical. They can coexist in the same equipment without modification. And all the efficiency of conventional propane is present in renewable propane. It’s more than 90% efficient in modern heating equipment and produces 43% fewer emissions than an equivalent amount of grid-produced electricity.
Production of renewable propane diverts used cooking oil and meat fats from languishing in landfills. In 2018, in conjunction with biofuel production, renewable propane production used the following as feedstocks:
That’s a lot of waste being put to good use!
Homes and businesses all over the U.S. will eventually be able to easily use renewable propane. Since it is molecularly identical to propane, there will be no need to replace or alter existing propane appliances and equipment. As the usage of renewable propane increases, it will reduce our greenhouse gas emissions nationwide, helping fight the devastating effects of climate change.
Renewable propane can also be blended with propane and utilized in existing propane-powered equipment and vehicles, as well as cars powered by propane autogas. This will reduce air pollution and diesel particulate matter substantially. Cleaner burning renewable propane can also help engines and equipment to run more effectively, resulting in longer life with less upkeep and fewer repairs.
Businesses may benefit from tax credits at both the federal and state levels.
Renewable propane gas will allow propane providers in Maine a greater opportunity to be involved in residential, commercial and government projects that require energy sources to be zero-carbon or as close as possible when it comes to emissions, meaning more opportunities and income for locally-owned businesses.
Ultimately, renewable propane can be a part of making the quality of life better here and elsewhere, with reduced emissions, a cleaner environment and forward-thinking applications that will pave the path to ultra-modern development.
Read more about renewable propane gas.
Bioheat fuel represents a smart solution for the delivery of a better, clean-burning fuel for your home and our environment. With curiosity growing about this remarkable, renewable fuel, we’ve tried to provide answers to the most common questions people in Maine have.
Yes. Bioheat fuel burns more cleanly and more efficiently than conventional heating oil. So, you’ll be using less heat to get the same amount of warmth, and your heating system will last longer. You’ll also likely find that you need fewer repairs on your system. You may also be able to extend the time between system maintenance service. All of this amounts to savings on your household heating expenses.
Bioheat fuel is a blend of ultra-low sulfur heating oil with renewable biodiesel that’s made from organic and recycled products. These products can range from soybean oil, used cooking oils and inedible corn oil to canola, tallow, fats, and algae.
These renewable products are defined as feedstocks for producing biodiesel. Blends of biodiesel in heating oil are designated in percentages. For example, a 5% blend of biodiesel is defined as B5. B10 refers to a 10% blend, while B20 is a 20% blend.
Yes. Companies, including those located right here in Maine, have been using advanced technology to convert woody fiber waste from lumber and paper mills into ethyl levulinate (EL). This can then be converted into an ultra-clean home heating product that replaces petroleum, gallon-for-gallon. Emitting zero greenhouse gas emissions EL, like Bioheat fuel, can be used safely with current home heating oil systems.
This is just one example of the quest to find more eco-friendly renewable liquid fuels. The continued growth of Bioheat fuel already results in a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.
No. Biofuel is a broad term that can include various products including not only biodiesel, but ethanol, renewable hydrocarbon diesel, and raw vegetable oil known as RVO or LR100. It’s important to note that raw vegetable oil does not meet industry specifications; it is not biodiesel or Bioheat fuel and it is not suitable for home heating oil use.
Yes. Bioheat fuel is domestically made and helps our economy by helping meet our nation’s energy needs without incurring the cost of new land use or drilling, or paying premium prices for imported fuels.
The U.S. biodiesel and renewable diesel industry now supports about 65,000 U.S. jobs and more than $17 billion in economic activity each year.
Nationwide, some three billion gallons of biofuel were consumed last year, and biofuel use is expected to exceed six billion gallons by 2030. This will eliminate over 35 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent greenhouse gas emissions annually. Expect those numbers to get even more impressive as biodiesel takes us farther along the road to clean energy.
No. Most major heating system manufacturers accept Bioheat fuel as covered under their warranties for use, and you won’t need to make any changes to your furnace, boiler, or oil storage tank to use it. Performance standards for Bioheat fuel have been approved by ASTM International, an organization that sets industry standards for fuels and lubricants.
Learn more about Bioheat fuel and the future of heating oil in Maine.
Have you thought about upgrading your old storage tank water heater to a durable, highly efficient propane tankless water heater–but you’re not sure it’s the right solution for you?
First, you need to understand that a propane tankless water heater represents an option that needs less space in the home while providing an abundant supply of hot water on demand. Tankless water heaters are extremely energy efficient, and generally have a longer life than standard storage tank water heaters.
A tankless propane water heater eliminates standby energy losses that occur in storage tank systems because this innovative unit only heats water when a hot water faucet is turned on.
A tankless water heater is also so compact in size that it can easily be mounted on a wall. These units are about the size of a suitcase, which allows for installation in crawl spaces, attics, closets and other tight spaces.
When you turn on your hot water faucets or an appliance, a flow sensor will activate a propane gas burner to heat the water. The heating will continue until you turn off the faucet, which shuts off the gas burner.
By switching to a tankless model, your energy efficiency could improve up to 40% and you’ll have access to virtually unlimited amounts of hot water – because you won’t have to worry about the tank draining and having to refill and reheat.
To make sure a tankless water heater will be able to meet your household’s hot water needs, your service contractor will need to calculate:
You will also need a professional to figure out which fixtures you plan to operate simultaneously and how much hot water each will use.
So, depending on key factors like how many tubs and showers you have, how often you’re running appliances like a washing machine or dishwasher, and how many of these would be in use at once, you can customize the capacity of your tankless water heater to suit your needs.
Prices range from about $170 for small gas-fired units to more than $2,000 for high-output heaters that can supply two showers at the same time; on average, the cost is about $1,000 per unit.
But keep in mind that propane gas-burning tankless water heaters should operate for 20 years or more. That’s two or three times longer than most storage tank water heaters as well as electric tankless water heaters.
If you experience an average energy savings of $150 per year, these savings should pay for your investment in a tankless water heater in about six or seven years. After that, you can pocket all of the savings on heating the water in your home!
If you’re an old hand at using propane in and around your Maine home, you probably already know how versatile, safe, eco-friendly, and efficient propane gas is. But do you know how it is created in the first place? Let’s go back to the beginning.
Since propane was first identified as a volatile compound in gasoline in 1910, businesses and scientists have worked diligently to make propane the viable fuel source it represents today. The process itself of making propane has evolved over the last century or so. Today, there are two primary ways propane is produced.
Because propane is created through the processing of natural gas and crude oil, it is a fuel that is largely a domestic product. In fact, about 90 % of the American propane supply is generated right here in the United States! That abundant, right-at-home supply makes propane a reliable fuel choice for your Maine home or business, and all its potential appliances and equipment, throughout the year.
Some propane is created during the process of crude oil refining. There are a lot of products that can be derived from crude oil refining, including gasoline, diesel fuel, kerosene, jet fuel, heating oil—and propane as well. During the stabilization phase of the refining, the heavier hydrocarbons fall to the bottom. But propane, being a lighter hydrocarbon, is at the top and it’s easily extracted.
The process of crude oil refining plays a small role in the production of propane, however. The majority of propane is derived today from natural gas production. When we take natural gas out of the earth, it is a mix of different gases. One of these gases is propane.
To stop condensation from forming in natural gas pipelines, propane is extracted from liquid compounds as the natural gas is being processed. Butane is also extracted during this process. Propane, being much denser as a liquid than as a gas, is stored and transported as a liquid in this form of production.
One of the drawbacks of natural gas is that it can only get to your home through an underground pipeline. If something goes wrong with that pipeline, you can’t get any gas. Propane is easier to move around because it gets compressed or squeezed until it turns into a liquid. It is then put inside large storage tanks and your propane supplier then delivers it to your home or business as needed.
The compression of propane can be generally compared to the air in a car tire, which gets squeezed to approximately two or three times normal air pressure. But the gas in a propane tank gets squeezed about 100 times more than that. This is why even a small tank can deliver a lot of liquid propane gas (LPG).
The propane in your tank is stored as a liquid. When your appliance calls for propane, the liquid propane leaves the tank and enters a non-pressurized area, where it is converted to vapor.
Please go here to learn more about how propane’s versatility and efficiency can give you more comfort and convenience in your Maine home.
With energy prices so high and inflation rates draining cash from our pockets every day, most Mainers want to save money at home wherever they can.
Here’s an idea: concentrate on air sealing and insulating your home right now. The EPA estimates that homeowners can save an average of 15% on heating and cooling costs by air sealing their homes and adding insulation in attics, floors over crawl spaces, and accessible basement rim joists. Read more.
Let’s focus on insulation. Did you know that most homes are under-insulated? Adding enough to meet recommended R-values is one of the most cost-effective ways to improve your home’s overall efficiency and comfort. You can take a deeper dive into insulation techniques here.
To get started, here are some tips to help make sure your home is adequately insulated.
Besides reducing energy costs, a properly insulated foundation will keep below-grade rooms more comfortable and prevent moisture problems, insect infestation, and radon infiltration.
Loose-fill or batt insulation is typically installed in an attic. Loose-fill insulation is usually less expensive to install than batt insulation and provides better coverage when installed properly.
If the ducts in your home are in an unheated or non-air-conditioned space, be sure that they are well sealed and insulated. Have the condition of your ductwork checked periodically so you can head off energy waste.
Properly insulating your cathedral ceilings will allow ceiling temperatures to remain closer to room temperatures, providing an even distribution throughout your house.
Cathedral ceilings must provide space between the roof deck and home’s ceiling for adequate insulation and ventilation. This can be achieved through the use of truss joists, scissor truss framing or sufficiently large rafters.
It’s always a good idea to insulate part, if not all, of your basement. A properly insulated basement can save you money on energy and provide dry, comfortable extra living space. You should install insulation in the basement ceiling, sealing off any foundation leaks, insulating rim joists and sill plates, which are major sources of heat loss in many homes.
Additionally, you should seal around electrical outlets and any exterior venting to eliminate drafts and cold spots. If you are considering finishing your basement to create extra livable space, be sure to insulate the walls and the floor for extra comfort.
When you’re insulating floors above unheated or uncooled garages, all possible sources of air leakage should be sealed first. This has the added benefit of minimizing the danger of contaminants (from car exhaust, paint, solvents, gardening supplies, etc.) in the garage migrating into the conditioned space.
We hope the above suggestions are useful in maintaining an affordable higher level of comfort in your home. Please visit this page to read more energy-saving money tips.
Between high inflation and skyrocketing energy prices, just about everyone is looking for ways to save money. With heating and cooling comprising a big chunk of your total home energy expenses, it makes sense to take some steps so you can conserve on air conditioning now, and then on heat later in the fall.
First and foremost, the key to saving energy and money is improving efficiency at home! And when it comes to improving the energy efficiency of your heating system, one of the best things you can do is schedule an annual heating system maintenance service (also known as a tune-up) with your equipment service provider.
Not only will this ensure that your heating system is running properly, but this preventive maintenance will also ensure that the system is operating at peak efficiency which helps you use less fuel to keep warm. Take the same approach with your air conditioning system. The more efficient it is, the lower your electric bills will be.
During the cold months, keep curtains and shades open in sun-exposed rooms to absorb all that free heat and solar energy during the day, then close them at night to keep it in at night. Do the reverse in the summer by closing curtains and shades during the day to block solar heat. Smart window treatments can help manage solar energy throughout the year.
In the spring and summer, the U.S. Energy Department recommends setting your central air conditioning system to 78°F when you’re at home. Program your A/C system to shut off 20-30 minutes before you leave home each day; return the temperature setting to normal comfort levels 20 to 30 minutes before you come home.
In the winter, the optimal setting is 68°F when you’re at home. Dial it down toward the 60°F range when you’re asleep or out of the house. The temperatures you ultimately choose will depend on factors like the outdoor temperature and your family’s comfort preferences. Remember, these are just guidelines.
You can positively impact your home’s energy efficiency in the biggest way through upgrades to equipment like heating oil boilers and heating oil furnaces. You can read more about this here.
Read more energy-saving tips.
While dealing with higher propane and heating oil prices can be frustrating and downright painful at times, try to take comfort in the fact that propane and heating oil both represent highly efficient and safe ways to heat your home and water—while reducing carbon emissions at the same time.
Plus, historical trends have shown us that when it comes to prices, what goes up must come down. It’s just a matter of when. For all of us, the feeling is, the sooner the better.
When war, political strife, conflict, or natural disasters like tsunamis, earthquakes or hurricanes occur in other regions of the world, this can impact crude oil and natural gas prices. Since propane is a by-product of both crude oil and natural gas, rising prices for these fuels have a ripple effect on propane.
Before the start of the war in Ukraine in late February, energy prices have been rising in anticipation of the potential sanctions that could be levied on the Russian energy sector if the country went ahead and invaded Ukraine.
Russia carries clout because it is the third-largest petroleum and liquid fuels producer in the world, behind only the United States and Saudi Arabia. It’s a major exporter of both crude oil and natural gas.
Even the hint of a possible disruption in energy supply will heavily influence the buying and selling done by commodities traders. In the frenzied world of investment, this is known as the fear factor.
When Russia eventually invaded Ukraine, and the U.S. placed a ban on Russian imported oil and petroleum products–with other countries expected to follow–that meant there would be a big energy void to fill. Those who make their living in the oil markets don’t like that uncertainty. This includes the speculators who are betting on price moves as well as the hedgers, who are limiting risk for their clients who are involved with either the production or consumption of oil.
Long-time factors that have always influenced where prices go include the balance between supply and demand. Weather extremes also play a role. If a reduction in supply occurs during a time of high demand, such as the colder months, a scarcer market develops. When a cold snap is especially extreme or lasts longer than usual, this scarcity gets further compounded. People may start to panic buy similar to what we saw at the start of the pandemic with the toilet paper shortage.
More recently, these issues have also come into play:
We don’t know where things will go from here, but if history is a guide, we can expect to see prices drop pretty significantly in the not-too-distant future. If you would like to read the U.S. Department of Energy’s short-term energy outlook, please go here.
Nothing will make your local Maine heating oil or propane company happier than when prices return to normal. Until then, trust your heating fuel supplier to look out for you and let’s hope that—regardless of what happens with energy prices—we will soon be living in a more peaceful world.
Maine is one of the states at the forefront of the growth of biofuels, and Mainers will benefit with jobs as well as cleaner-burning home heating fuels like the Bioheat® fuel.
A great example is Bangor-based Biofine Developments Northeast Inc., which is expected to locate its new multiphase biofuels refinery at a former mill site in Lincoln. The facility should be operational in 2023 and it’s predicted to add 200 full-time jobs.
Biofine will partner with Sprague Resources LP, of Portsmouth, N.H., one of the largest distributors of Bioheat fuel, a mix of traditional heating oil and biofuel.
Biofine will use its technology to convert woody fiber waste from lumber and paper mills into ethyl levulinate, which the company has branded EL100. The goal is to convert 100 tons of wood waste per day, which will result in an estimated three million gallons of ultra-clean heating oil each year.
The company reports that EL100 emits zero greenhouse gas emissions and, like Bioheat fuel, it can be used safely with current home heating oil systems.
This is the latest example of the quest to find more eco-friendly renewable liquid fuels. The continued growth of Bioheat fuel already results in a significant reduction of greenhouse gas emissions!
Advanced heating fuels like Bioheat fuel combine ultra-low-sulfur heating oil and biodiesel, composed of organic products like used cooking oil, tallow, fats and wood waste. Produced in the United States, it is one of the cleanest-burning energy sources.
Biofuel, also known as biodiesel, is a gallon-for-gallon substitute for petroleum-based fuels. Widespread regional use of Bioheat fuel annually prevents more than 1.5 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions, the equivalent of removing 320,000 vehicles from the road.
Plus, homes that heat with energy-efficient Bioheat fuel use less energy overall. Right now, and in the years ahead, you should feel great about heating your Maine home with renewable heating oil!
Today, more than 125 production plants around the country make biodiesel. The United States biodiesel industry produces about three billion gallons of biodiesel now.
Increased production isn’t just about achieving a cleaner environment. It’s about building a stronger economy too. The biodiesel industry supports nearly 60,000 jobs and generates billions of dollars in GDP, household income and tax revenues.
You can read more about Bioheat fuel here.